CNMI LEGISLATURE ACTS ON LONG OVERDUE BUDGET

Editorial

Saipan Tribune

SAIPAN, CNMI (January 1, 2009) – Since the fiscal year ended on Sept. 30, 2008, the Saipan Tribune has kept a running count on the number of days the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI) government has been operating without a budget. On Thursday last week, with the count standing at 65 days, the Legislature finally adopted a $165.4 million compromise spending plan that, among other things, offers proportionate budget cuts, priority for essential services, controls against unnecessary hiring, and reporting requirements for the Department of Finance.

The bill's passage at the Legislature came even as the government reported a deficit of $18.1 million in fiscal year 2008. According to a report by Finance Secretary Eloy S. Inos to the House of Representatives, the CNMI government incurred the deficit after earning $4.5 million less than expected, and spending $13.6 million more than continuing appropriations. This means that, because of failure to pass a budget for fiscal year 2008, the government spent at the prior year’s level of $160.1 million, collected only $155.6 million, and spent $173.7 million.

This is what comes of operating on "continuing resolution"-spending according to the limits and projections set in the last passed budget. The problem was not only the failure of both the Legislature and the Executive Branch to pass a workable budget. Rather, the old spending plan was based on outdated revenue projections that were bigger than the actual amount of funds coming in. We were spending beyond our means and creating a deeper hole with which to bury ourselves in.

Last Thursday's passage of a spending plan for the current fiscal year is a step in the right direction, creating a blueprint of how much we can afford and providing the tools necessary for a fiscally responsible way of running the government. The bill is not perfect (Rep. Victor Hocog said as much), nor does it reflect everybody's wants and needs, but it is realistic and makes a serious effort to balance the government's expected expenses and its projected earnings for the current fiscal year. In a time of such dire want as we are all in right now, this is the best of what our lawmakers could come up with and this is something that we have to live with for good or ill.

Today, the Saipan Tribune's count on the number of days the CNMI government has been running without a budget stands at 69. Let's not wait for that number to go even higher. We urge Gov. Benigno R. Fitial to sign the bill into law to align the ship of state with fiscally prudent ways of running the government, creating the lodestone with which he will steer the Commonwealth toward getting the economy back on track. Saipan Tribune http://www.saipantribune.com

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